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Law of Retroactivity in California

Amendments to the Penal Code that change the legal consequences of criminal behavior to the detriment of defendants cannot be applied to crimes committed before the measure’s effective date. Application of such amended provisions to crimes committed before the measure’s effective date would be retrospective, in violation of Pen C § 3, which mandates that no part of the Penal Code is retroactive unless expressly so declared, because each would change the legal consequences of the defendant’s past conduct. Such application would also likely violate the rule against ex post facto legislation. People v. Adames (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Apr. 14, 1997), 54 Cal. App. 4th 198, 62 Cal. Rptr. 2d 631, 1997 Cal. App. LEXIS 286.


Every statute will be construed to operate prospectively unless contrary legislative intention is clearly expressed, and this is particularly applicable to penal statutes. Statute is given retroactive effect only where there is clearly expressed legislative intent that it is to have that effect. People v. Daniels (Cal. App. 4th Dist. Nov. 6, 1963), 222 Cal. App. 2d 99, 34 Cal. Rptr. 844, 1963 Cal. App. LEXIS 1633.


Provision of section that no part of code is retroactive “unless expressly so declared” is rule of construction originally developed by courts; it is merely restatement of general rule of statutory construction. Di Genova v. State Bd. of Education (Cal. Jan. 9, 1962), 57 Cal. 2d 167, 18 Cal. Rptr. 369, 367 P.2d 865, 1962 Cal. LEXIS 163.


Pen C § 3, providing that no part of Penal Code is retroactive unless expressly so declared, simply embodies common-law rule of construction that legislature will be presumed to intend statute to operate prospectively, not retroactively, where there is nothing in statute to indicate contrary intent. In re Estrada (Cal. Dec. 23, 1965), 63 Cal. 2d 740, 48 Cal. Rptr. 172, 408 P.2d 948, 1965 Cal. LEXIS 232, limited, Bennett v. Procunier (Cal. App. 5th Dist. June 7, 1968), 262 Cal. App. 2d 799, 69 Cal. Rptr. 116, 1968 Cal. App. LEXIS 2371.


General rule of construction in common law and embodied in Pen C § 3, is that when nothing indicates contrary intent in statute, it will be presumed that Legislature intended statute to operate prospectively, not retroactively. People v. Durbin (Cal. Apr. 25, 1966), 64 Cal. 2d 474, 50 Cal. Rptr. 657, 413 P.2d 433, 1966 Cal. LEXIS 276.


--Deering’s California Codes Annotated


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